Hard work, tough love turn Ar’Mond Davis into Division I prospect

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For young athletes hoping to earn a Division I scholarship, there’s no one set path to that goal. While many take the seemingly straightforward track from high school to college, the experiences on the way are anything but similar. And then there are those whose life experiences result in a more circuitous journey, with the need for positive influences and an unwillingness to give up being even greater.

That’s been the case for Ar’Mond Davis, who dealt with tough situations throughout his time in high school. From dealing with a living situation that was at times uncertain and having his coaches pick him up at a local mall so as to keep his issues private, to now being the focus of many major college programs’ recruiting efforts. It’s safe to say that Ar’Mond Davis has come a long way.

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While Davis’ solid freshman season at the College of Southern Idaho led to his being selected to play in last month’s JucoRecruiting.com Elite 80 West Showcase in Las Vegas, the journey began in Tacoma, Washington. Tacoma may not get the national pub that Seattle does but the city hasn’t lacked for high-level basketball talent in recent years, with Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley being the most noteworthy products who have gone from Tacoma to the Division I level and then on to the professional ranks, where they currently play alongside each other in the Boston Celtics back court.

For Davis to keep his chances of joining that list alive, he had to overcome a set of circumstances that can derail a young person and make their dreams unreachable.

“Sometimes just having to worry about where I’d stay or what I was going to eat, stuff like that,” Davis told NBC Sports during a phone interview, and it’s understandable that a person would be a bit guarded, not wanting to reveal too much to outsiders when it comes to family hardships.

With the unpredictability of his life at the time, having a routine he could rely on was incredibly valuable to Davis and that was (and still is) something he could find in basketball. The security of being able to pick up a ball and work on his game aided Davis as a youngster, and that only strengthened with his move from Lincoln High School to Foss High School in the spring of his junior year. There he would play for coach Mike Cocke, who looked to provide both the encouragement and discipline his newest addition needed after spending the last couple of seasons working to find neutralize Davis one the court.

“He’s an inner-city kid from a single-parent household with his mother raising him and his older brother being his role model,” Cocke said. “The thing he lacked when he showed up at our school was discipline within the classroom. Some stuff at home probably could have been a little tighter than it was, and that hurt him a little bit.

“Because by the time he showed up at Foss, his dreams of playing Division I college basketball right after high school would have been pretty hard to achieve. My biggest thing was I knew the talent and the kind of kid he was; he was never a bad person, he just never had a male role model to instill some discipline in him and make him a better person on and off the floor.”

Davis’ time at Foss was successful on multiple levels. Not only was he a standout for the team there, but it also led to his joining the Portland-based I-5 Elite grassroots program in the summer prior to his senior year. Running the program was head coach Kumbeno Memory, who played against Cocke at the junior college level, and that connection ultimately led to the high school coach knowing that there was another mentor willing and able to provide Davis with the help he needed in basketball and beyond to reach his dreams.

“Cocke reached out to Beno and said that he had a kid who was looking for a positive situation,” said I-5 Elite coach Chris Foss. “A situation where he could not only get some tough love but some guidance as well, which was something we were able to provide.”

And it didn’t take Davis, who originally played for the Team ACCESS program, very long to make an impression on his new I-5 Elite teammates. As a matter of fact, that would occur in Davis’ first practice with the team.

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I-5 Elite Basketball

“I just remember that first day of practice he was kind of a quieter kid initially, a little more reserved and he let his actions speak for him,” Foss noted. “We play a really fundamental brand of basketball but we don’t have the high-flyers that everybody else has. That day, we don’t normally do it, we started out with a “3-on-2, 2-on-1” drill; we normally do a lot out of the secondary break. They’re going down, someone threw him a pass and he just elevated, cocked the ball back and ‘BOOM.’

“We’re really high on kids talking on the court, having a high IQ and a motor, which are traits that we’ve been able to have success with and have kids overachieve. At the start we’re like, ‘OK, real quiet kid,’ and then he did that and it was like ‘the gym’s woken up.’ This was a little bit different than what we were used to, but from day one he was willing to buy in to what we were trying to do and could just tell he was a really sincere kid.”

While Davis flourished with his new program, there were also signs that his experiences weren’t in line with those of the average child. With that in mind, coaches looked to do the best they could to ensure that Davis understood that they would be there to help him out whenever he needed assistance.

“To be honest, I wasn’t as well-versed in what he was going through until we played in a tournament in Bellevue (Washington) to start the July live period,” Foss noted. “We practiced in Portland the week before and went up there the following Thursday (the day before the event started) and he had us pick him up at the mall instead of going to pick him up at his house.

“Just kind of being private with everything he was going through at the time,” Foss continued. “Just finding out as things went on, sitting down and having talks with him or hearing about it from Cocke or other people who were close to him, and we realized that he doesn’t have it like everyone else does. And it kind of showed why he did some of the things that he did, but our immediate and only response has been to give him a ton of love.”

After averaging just over 26 points per game as a senior at Foss High School, Davis went through the process of choosing a junior college that would best prepare him to make the jump to a four-year school not only athletically but academically as well. While there were initial thoughts of remaining close to home for junior college, Davis ultimately took the challenge of joining a College of Southern Idaho (CSI) program that annually ranks among the best in the country.

“In the recruiting process he was actually one of the easier guys to recruit,” CSI assistant Brock Morris said. “And what I mean by that is, we get a lot of high-level guys here and a lot of guys need to hear what you can do for them. With Ar’Mond we were able to challenge him, ask if he’s willing to compete with the best or not and he said he wanted to take on that opportunity. That, to me, stuck out.

“This isn’t a guy shying away from [the competition]. He came off the bench last year, was our second-leading scorer and didn’t complain at all. I think that translated back to his recruitment.”

On a deep roster Davis made the most of his playing time in 2014-15, averaging 10.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in helping CSI win 31 games and make the trip to Hutchinson Junior College in Kansas that junior college programs aim for every season. There are multiple reasons why Davis was able to play as well as he did as a freshman. Of course, there’s the talent and the desire to advance in his basketball career.

But in talking with Cocke, Foss and Morris there was a label that each felt fit Davis well: gym rat. And not the kind of self-proclaimed gym rat who sends out proclamations of “no days off” on social media, only for their in-game production to not be on par with that label. Davis has put in the work, with his coaches being witnesses to his development.

“Absolutely. He’s always been that way,” Cocke said. “It doesn’t really matter what time of day it is, send him a text saying ‘Hey, the gym’s open’ and he’ll show up and work out. He always wants to play, and if he’s not playing with us he’s playing at a local gym by his apartment, or he’s up in Seattle just trying to find a gym to work on his game or get a run in.”

Those years of using basketball as both a way to forget about the hand life dealt him and a path to a better life have paid off for Davis, who’s expected to be a leader for his CSI team as a sophomore. There’s also the recruiting aspect, with programs such as Alabama, Penn State, Memphis (he’ll visit there the second weekend in September), Missouri and Texas A&M either offering scholarships or in the case of A&M showing interest (A&M eventually did offer Davis).

With his ability to score at multiple levels and a desire to improve defensively as well, Davis can be an impact addition to a Division I program when he makes that move. Thanks to the combination of coaches who refused to let him quit and his own work ethic, Davis is well on his way to making strides as both an athlete and a young man.

“Coach Cocke was really helpful, because he’d help guide me and make sure I kept going in the right direction,” Davis said. “My I-5 Elite coach was really helpful too. There would be times when I’d think about giving up, but they kept on me to make sure I kept working to be successful.”

Arizona State will have more size, lineup options this season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State was one of college basketball’s biggest surprises during the 2017-18 season, rising to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years.

The Sun Devils’ run came a year ahead of their coach’s schedule.

“I looked at it like this was going to be the year,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said Wednesday. “Maybe before last season, I had a pretty good suspicion we would exceed expectations of what people thought, but really deep down this was the year with having the size in the front court and having a high-level recruiting class.”

Led by senior guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice, Arizona State knocked off Kansas and Xavier while putting together the first undefeated non-conference schedule in school history. The Sun Devils had a little more trouble when the Pac-12 season started, but their resume was good enough to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Syracuse in the first round.

The senior trio is gone to graduation, but there’s plenty left in the cupboard at Arizona State.

Dynamic point guard Remy Martin is back after a stellar freshman season, ready to take the reins of Arizona State’s offense. The big men who complemented the senior guards also return, led by Romello White and De’Quon Lake. The Sun Devils also will have forwards Mickey Mitchell and Kimani Lawrence for the entire season.

Arizona State should get a big boost from transfers Zylan Cheatham (San Diego State) and Rob Edwards (Cleveland State), who know Hurley’s system after practicing with the team while sitting out last season.

Add to it a stellar recruiting class by Hurley, led by five-star forward Taeshon Cherry, and the Sun Devils should be in position for the program’s first consecutive NCAA Tournaments since 1978-80.

“We lose three guys that were critical to what we did, very key players to what we’re building, but we’re replacing them with six guys that are very capable,” Hurley said. “Last year we were under the radar, especially initially … but the secret’s out. We have good players, we had a great season last year and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to do it again.”

Out of necessity, Hurley played a guard-oriented style his first few years in Tempe, often with four guards on the court at the same time. It worked when Holder, Evans and Justice were making shots, but a lack of size inside limited what the Sun Devils could do and led to matchup problems.

The additions of White and Lake last season helped even things up for Arizona State inside, but there were still size issues once the Pac-12 season started.

Next season’s roster will give Hurley more lineup options.

The Sun Devils will be bigger, not just inside, but at the guard spots. Martin is 6-foot, but Edwards and Canadian freshman Luguentz Dort are 6-4, and Finnish freshman Elias Valtonen is 6-6. And Uros Plavsic, an active 7-footer from Serbia, gives Arizona State the type of inside presence it hasn’t had in years.

“The way our roster is constructed and built this year, we’re going to be bigger even at the guard positions,” Hurley said. “We have real good size at the wing positions. We’re just going have more options, more depth.”

With that size may come a change in the way the Sun Devils play.

Holder, Evans, Justice and Martin played a high-energy, sharpshooting game, so Hurley tailored the offense to their skills. Arizona State took 41 percent of its shots from 3-point range, making 36 percent.

Now that the Sun Devils have size inside, Hurley may go to more of an inside-out offense rather than the other way around.

“This year’s roster gives me a ton of options to play a lot of different ways,” Hurley said. “I could see scenarios where there’s five guys 6-7 or bigger, which I’ve never had.”

The Sun Devils will have a new look, but appear to be ready to take another step in Hurley’s rebuilding project.

Former UConn assistant levies serious accusations at Kevin Ollie

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On Thursday, after a Freedom Of Information Act request filed by local newspapers, UConn released more than 1,000 pages of documents pertaining to the investigation that led to the decision to fire of Kevin Ollie.

In those documents were the fairly innocuous NCAA violations that were allegedly committed by Ollie that UConn used as “just cause” for firing him and digging themselves out of the $10 million that he was owed on that contract.

But that is just the beginning of where this thing gets interesting, because there are more accusations levied at Ollie than what UConn was able to confirm.

Let’s start with this one: Former assistant coach Glen Miller said that Ollie paid $30,000 to the mother of a recruit to allow her to afford an apartment and move to Connecticut to be closer to her son. He didn’t have any first-hand information — his wife had befriended the mother of the player and opened up about it while they were on a road trip together — but that’s not the only bomb that Miller tried to drop. He also alleged that Ollie fired his former agent because he wouldn’t help him to recruit, which Miller implies is the agent paying players to go to UConn.

Again, none of these allegations are corroborated. This is Miller, a long-time UConn assistant that was fired — and is clearly still bitter about it — passing along things that he had heard second-hand. One story was from his wife, the other was from one of the most powerful agents in the business. There’s no proof those conversations actually happened, let alone that what was discussed is actually true.

But this is a good example of just how ugly this thing has a chance to get.

There is $10 million on the line for a school and a state that is not exactly overflowing in cash, but is there a larger cost that could be associated with this decision? Could fighting to save that $10 million eventually turn up major violations within the UConn program?

As it stands, Ollie has not technically been fired by UConn yet. He is only suspended with pay as of now. The process to fire him included a hearing with athletic director David Benedict in April and a hearing with school president Susan Herbst last month. Both Benedict and, as of yesterday, Herbst supported the decision to fire Ollie with cause, meaning that he will now be forced to face arbitration. If that ruling goes against him, he will have the option to take UConn to court, which, it seems, he will be willing to do.

Which is where the headache for UConn comes into play.

Do they really want to have a case that has already had these accusations come to light get discussed in a court of law? If this is what a FOIA turns up, what happens during depositions? For a program that has already dealt with their share of NCAA scandals — which, mind you, did not get Jim Calhoun fired — is it really worth the money to risk having even more turn up?

The worst kept secret in college basketball is that UConn is grasping at straws with this decision. They want anything they can find that will allow them to get out from underneath what, in hindsight, was a terrible contract.

And in the end, that could cost them more than just money.

Report: Alleged NCAA violations against former UConn coach Kevin Ollie revealed

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie allegedly committed multiple NCAA violations that led to his dismissal last spring, according to a report released Wednesday by the Hartford Courant.

Ollie was dismissed from the position after a disappointing 2017-18 campaign as he’s been in a battle with the school over the remaining $10 million on his contract. Since Ollie was fired for just cause, the school is trying to withhold that remaining money as the case will proceed to arbitration. UConn president Susan Herbst upheld the school’s decision to terminate Ollie for just cause on Tuesday as he is still, technically, suspended without pay.

According to documents obtained by The Courant under a Freedom of Information Act request, Ollie and his staff committed multiple violations, including an impermissible phone call between Huskies legend Ray Allen and a recruit. Multiple UConn players were also sent to work with an outside trainer on campus, and later, in Atlanta. Another violation occurred when Ollie shot baskets with recruit James Akinjo during an official visit as the video was posted by Akinjo’s guardian on Twitter. The video was later deleted.

Among the 1,355 pages of documents that The Courant obtained, it includes the NCAA’s transcripts from their investigation as well as UConn’s case to terminate Ollie as head coach.

Perhaps the worst violation includes the alleged involvement of the trainer, as Ollie allegedly had a friendship with Derrek Hamilton. During the 2015-16 season, Hamilton allegedly worked out UConn players after hours during on-campus workouts as well as off-campus workouts. Three players also allegedly traveled to Atlanta to train with Hamilton as the players were fed, transported and housed for free — all of which are NCAA violations.

The NCAA has yet to proceed with any action against UConn as 900 pages of the report were based on the NCAA’s interviews and findings. Former UConn coach Glen Miller was also granted immunity in exchange for his testimony to the NCAA regarding the violations.

These alleged violations are a new step in the Ollie case, as the case does not look great for him to receive the remaining $10 million on the contract. Ollie and UConn still have to go through arbitration, but the release of these documents, and alleged violations, is very hurtful to Ollie’s case.

Harvard captain Chris Egi opts for Wall Street instead of pro basketball dreams

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Harvard forward and team captain Chris Egi is opting to skip potential professional basketball options in order to pursue a career on Wall Street.

In a great profile from Michael Grange of Sportsnet Canada, the 6-foot-9 Egi will become an investment analyst at Goldman Sachs after his four-year career with the Crimson ended after this season.

At one point considered a top-100 prospect in his high school Class of 2014, Egi never found consistent footing on the Harvard basketball team as he played sparingly over the course of his four seasons. Injuries and a competitive roster forced Egi to re-evaluate his basketball ambitions as a concussion forced him to miss a lot of his senior season.

“I kind of made an agreement with myself that I’d put it all in for a final shot senior year. But chances were it wasn’t going to be basketball for me unless something great happened,” Egi said in the story.

“[Playing professionally] would be a great experience and part of me wants to do it. But part of me feels like this isn’t the path for me and there are a lot of opportunities here that aren’t about playing basketball and I want to take advantage of those and get started on this new journey.”

While Egi never got stable playing time with Harvard, he could have been an intriguing professional player thanks to his run-and-jump athleticism. Since Egi is also Canadian, he would not have fit under some international league policies that limit the number of American players on certain rosters. If healthy, Egi could have eventually morphed into a serviceable pro after a disappointing college basketball career.

In the classroom at Harvard, however, things were hardly disappointing for Egi. In fact, it appears he might have made the correct decision by going the Wall Street route. Selected to give a commencement speech at Harvard’s underclass graduation late in May, Egi shined as he told his family’s story and personal experiences at the Ivy League school he always dreamed of attending.

As Michael Porter Jr. joins Puma, will brand make splash into college basketball?

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As the 2018 NBA Draft approaches, Puma has made major headlines by signing a handful of lottery picks — including the potential top two picks in Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley.

Puma’s aggressive move to get back into basketball continued on Wednesday afternoon as ESPN’s Nick DePaula reported that Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. — another likely top-10 pick — will sign a multi-year deal with the apparel company.

Dormant in the basketball business since Vince Carter signed with the brand as a rookie in 1998, Puma has become one of the intriguing subplots of this year’s draft as they attempt to position themselves in a crowded basketball apparel market that includes heavyweights like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.

But while Puma has made a splash by signing three potential top ten picks, and another potential lottery pick in Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith, the intriguing question becomes what the brand might do at the college and grassroots levels of basketball?

Besides targeting 2018 NBA draft picks, Puma has recently made a strong push as a lifestyle brand by forging partnerships with music icons like Jay-Z and Rihanna. The brand’s soccer division also received a boost when they opted to sign Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku to a roster that already included the likes of Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann. The company also has a longstanding partnership with 11-time Olympic gold medal sprinter Usain Bolt.

So, even outside of professional basketball, Puma is trying to make major moves, while spending major money, over the last several months.

Having star NBA talents signed to apparel deals is one thing. Those same companies often attempt to align with as many college programs and high school programs as possible. Nike, Adidas and Under Armour have also formed their own spring and summer grassroots basketball leagues over the last decade with the EYBL, Adidas Gauntlet and the Under Armour Association.

While Puma is undoubtedly spending enough to be seen by the masses, it’s hard to say if they have the monetary means, or the labor, to make a major push into smaller basketball levels like college and the AAU scene. Multiple basketball and apparel sources speculated to NBCSports.com that Puma’s sudden rise into the NBA doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll want to make the leap into college or high school basketball.

That’s been the natural progression of the other apparel companies who have made a major mark in basketball, as those brands value the long-term relationships and local credibility that comes with having top-notch college and high school players wearing their product.

Maybe Puma doesn’t see things that way as they try to align themselves with star professional players. And for all of the talk of Nike having long-term relationships with Ayton, Bagley and Porter, all three of them jumped at the chance to make the most money with the new(ish) kids on the block. Money will still be the ultimate factor in a lot of athletes signing with apparel companies.

If Puma does decide to enter the college athletics arms race, it would certainly make for a fascinating apparel company to enter the mix. Since Puma has credibility in sports like golf, tennis, soccer and track and field they could also make a splash signing larger schools to long-term apparel deals that go across all sports.

But it remains to be seen what Puma’s long-term goal is after signing four strong draft prospects. Puma is off to a great start re-entering basketball, but we have no idea what kind of end-goal they have in mind. Or if that even involves college basketball.